Difference between faiths and life-stances do not have to lead to division, but can be part of a rich blend of perspectives working for the common good, says a leading Christian service agency responding to a bridge building letter from Muslim scholars.
Faithworks, a UK Christian agency with thousands of partners, has welcomed the letter 'A Common Word Between Us And You' issued recently to Christian leaders by a globally representative group of Muslim scholars.
The group is involved in a wide range of education and social provision, drawing in evangelical Christians in particular. Unlike some other faith groups it has affirmed the need for equal access and treatment, including the Sexual Orientation Regulations (SoRs).
Joy Madeiros, Public Policy Advisor to Faithworks, said in a statement issued last week: "We welcome and applaud the recognition of the need – for the sake of peace – to identify common ground between two of the world’s leading religions. There is much that Christianity and Islam have in common: loving your neighbour, a commitment to peace, and respect for others, to name but a few. By recognizing these similarities and working together, greater cohesion and more peace could be achieved in the world."
She added, however, that "while we have much in common, it is our undeniable and at times irreconcilable differences that have led to misunderstandings and difficulties in the first place. Although history records many devastating wars between different groups for religious supremacy and control, having ‘separate’ identities surely does not have to lead to ‘separatism’."
"It is essential that we recognize what makes one faith distinctive from another, but it is equally essential that this is articulated without insisting on the need to impose one identity on another", declares Faithworks.
The organisation calls this approach 'Distinctive Faith', and says it "enables people to assert their faith identity without resorting to aggression to insist on its way. Distinctive Faith enables people to articulate and discuss what matters to them, even when there are irreconcilable differences, in open and unthreatening spaces. By recognizing differences, Distinctive Faith also enables faith groups to maintain their unique characteristics."
Ms Madeiros continues: "Community cohesion only begins to be possible when each faith has the opportunity to be itself. Nothing is a greater threat to good relations than misconstruing people’s identities or homogenizing different faith identities as one."
"Confirmation of a person or group’s identity automatically creates confidence to embrace others. In this way, Distinctive Faith creates an environment in which diversity can be embraced. Faithworks’s commitment to diversity is set out in its Charter which contains standards about how to treat all people with respect and dignity, about valuing people and about best practice. All Faithworks affiliates are required to sign up to this Charter."
Kevin Curley, chief executive of the National Association for Voluntary and Community Action (NAVCA), has also re-entered the debate around the Commmission for Cohesion and Integration's recent report, specifically whether to move funding away from faith and minority ethnic groups, as mooted by government minister Hazel Blears.
Writing in The Guardian newspaper last week, he said: "By helping minority ethnic groups build their self-sufficiency we enable them to take an active part in civil society. Removing support would disadvantage the most vulnerable and socially excluded. Yes, we must promote integration, but we should never apologise for offering support to those who need it."
The Commission on Integration and Cohesion report indicates that money "is to be channelled over three years to groups which promote integration, rather than towards bodies which represent a single ethnic or religious identity".
NAVCA argues that this is a false polarity, suggesting that equality and integration can include both community-wide and community specific groups working alongside and together.